Exposure to Internet Pornography and Taiwanese Adolescents' Sexual Attitudes and Behavior

Article excerpt

Soon after its commercialization in 1993, the Internet and the World Wide Web gained prominence in producing, disseminating, storing, and presenting pornographic materials known as cyberporn or cybersex. Content analyses (Heider & Harp, 2000; Mehta & Plaza, 1997; Rimm, 1985) have shown that pornographic materials posted and distributed on the Internet have been presented in an unprecedented and interactive dimension. Concerns over the excessive growth of Internet pornography have given rise to a moral panic (McMurdo, 1997). Evidence in the literature has established an association of exposure to pornographic materials with sexual arousal and cognitive effects, especially changes in attitudes (such as disinhibition) and values (such as sexual callousness). The conclusions of the impact on behavioral effect, however, are inconsistent. A large number of studies reported effects of use of pornography on aggression, but other studies (e.g., Donnerstein, Linz, & Penrod, 1987; Linz, Donnerstein, & Adams, 1989) have suggested that aggression accompanied materials containing sexual violence. Several meta-analytic analyses provided the most compelling evidence (Allen, D'Alessio, & Brezgel, 1995; Allen, Emmers, Gebhardt, & Giery, 1995) to support the proposition that consumption of either nonviolent or violent pornography may lead to some serious attitudinal and behavioral effects. Not surprisingly, policymakers, parents, and educators fear cyberporn will cause greater social harm than traditional pornography.

Much of the moral panic over Internet pornography has been attributed to the capability of this newly emerged mass medium to provide widespread and unguarded access via bulletin board services, e-mail (especially listserv), Internet relay chat, and real-time data feeds. The presentation of pornographic materials in multimedia format, including digitized moving images, animated sequences, hot chats, and interactive sexual games, is another unique feature of cyberporn that differs from traditional hard-core pornographic materials.

The growing research on effects of Internet pornography has primarily focused on adult users (Barak & Fisher, 1997; Barak, Fisher, Belfry, & Lashambe, 1999; Lo & Wei, 2002; Wu & Koo, 2001). The influence of Internet pornography on the Web-savvy adolescents, however, has constituted a gap in the current research. The need for research in this area is particularly strong (Donnerstein & Smith, 2001). This study responds to the need by investigating how adolescents use Internet pornography and what the correlates (e.g., demographics, general media use, sexual attitudes, and behavior) of exposure to Internet porn are.

In the United States, the media were ranked second only to school sex education programs as a source of information about sex (Greenberg, Brown, & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1993). A Time/CNN poll (Stodghill, 1998) singled out TV as the principal source of information about sex: 29% of surveyed US teens mentioned it. Adolescents are skilled Internet navigators. Another Time/CNN poll of teenagers found 82% had used the Internet; among them, 44% had seen X-rated content (Okrent, 1999). A more recent survey of 2,628 Taiwanese high school and college students found that 88% had navigated the Internet and 44% had surfed pornographic Web sites (Lo & Wei, 2002). The Internet thus offers an often-unguarded access to an abundance of saliently presented sexual materials and enables adolescents to view materials that previously were kept off limits. As Donnerstein and Smith (2001) argued, Internet pornography may act as an even more influential socializing agent of sexuality to teen Internet users than traditional media.

This study focuses on exposure to Internet pornography and the relationships between the exposure and sexual attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. In so doing, it aims to expand the scope of literature on sex and the media, thus contributing to the theorization of effects of cyberporn use in the era of Internet communication. …